An accounting and finance department is only as productive and effective as the staff who comprise it. Good leaders understand this and encourage their employees to continually develop new skills and knowledge — and keep refining the abilities they already possess. They also prioritize training for finance employees.

Many businesses that pulled back on professional development activities at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic are now reinvigorating these programs — even redesigning them in many cases to accommodate remote and hybrid teams. These employers recognize that professional development options remain an important way to engage and motivate their team members and expand and strengthen the collective knowledge and overall capabilities of their workforce.

You will likely find that many of your accounting and finance staff members are eager to take advantage of finance skills development and other professional development opportunities. In a recent Robert Half survey of workers in Canada, 42 per cent of respondents who reported that the pandemic had stalled their career also noted their ability to develop skills has suffered during this time.

Devoting resources to staff training and skills enhancement can boost team morale and enhance retention and create positive returns for your business. Employees with solid technical skills work more efficiently and are less likely to make mistakes on the job. Solid soft skills — including adaptability and empathy — are important to team success, as well. And if all or some of your employees are working remotely, outstanding communication and collaboration abilities are an absolute must for keeping your workforce in sync and productive.

Training for finance employees and other professional development opportunities can be quick and easy to implement. In many cases, they cost little or nothing to put in motion. If you’re looking for professional development ideas for your accounting and finance staff, including options for fully remote and hybrid teams, considering trying one or more of the following options:

1. Arrange for employees to rotate jobs

Professional development is all about helping employees to grow. But managers often find it challenging to provide meaningful, “hands-on” learning opportunities. Job rotation offers an answer; it can be a valuable form of training for finance employees. Through job rotation, your team members can build and master new skills and start putting their newly gained knowledge to work almost immediately.

Not only can job rotation arrangements help workers learn other roles, but they also can increase their business acumen — an essential ingredient for problem-solving and big-picture thinking on the job. Rotating positions can also keep your accounting and finance staff from becoming bored with their duties, which, in turn, helps to improve job satisfaction and bolster retention efforts.

2. Make mentorship a priority

Maximize the strength of your multigenerational workforce by asking senior-level employees to serve as mentors and guides to their less-seasoned colleagues, helping to shape their finance skills development and growth in other areas.

Keep in mind that mentoring relationships can work both ways, though: Those just starting their accounting careers also have unique knowledge and skill sets that more experienced accountants and auditors may not, such as creative ways to reach millennial clients.

More than likely, you’ll find that every employee in your organization could benefit from taking part in a mentoring or coaching program.

3. Create cross-departmental teams

Create project task forces that span two or more divisions so that accounting and finance employees can get to know their colleagues from other parts of the business. Yes, this is possible even in a remote work environment — in fact, it can be an effective strategy for keeping a distributed team feeling connected.

Cross-departmental collaboration can boost both technical and interpersonal skills, as staff will better appreciate the roles, responsibilities and workflows of coworkers across the organization. Also, when a technological, marketing or other nonfinancial business issue arises, your team will know right away which colleagues to contact for help and what skills and expertise they can bring to the table to help solve problems.

4. Invite virtual guest speakers

Consider hosting monthly lunch and learn sessions, held virtually and led by industry experts. These sessions are a quick, easy and cost-effective way to engage your staff and provide them with continuing education, including finance skills development.

To ensure these events create value, feature current topics that would likely interest all staff, from entry-level accountants to veteran budget analysts. Some ideas include the benefits of accounting automation or cloud computing, changing tax laws and regulations, and year-end audits.

5. Offer upskilling and reskilling opportunities

Upskilling and reskilling can help accounting and finance employees prepare for the future of work, advance their finance skills development, and make the most of their other professional talents. Some ideas for budget- and schedule-friendly tactics include:

  • Virtual training — Offer hands-on training via an online platform that workers can access remotely on their own time.
  • Microlearning — Upskilling and reskilling can be achieved gradually through microlearning, delivered through online videos, podcasts, mobile applications and other formats.
  • P2P learning — Peer-to-peer (P2P) learning is informal and can take many forms, including employee-led virtual workshops and team projects. This type of knowledge-sharing within your department can be beneficial for finance skills development across your whole team.

Also, don’t overlook the value of financial aid. If you know your accounting and finance staff will eventually require certification or in-depth study of a new subject, consider offering tuition reimbursement or assistance if your budget allows.

Training for finance employees requires time

When your team members constantly face the challenge of lengthy to-do lists, they’ll be inclined to push professional development to the back burner — even if they’d like nothing more than to do something new that helps advance their career. And now, many professionals face the added challenge of juggling professional and personal demands while managing remote or hybrid work schedules.

So, it’s important to encourage your team members to prioritize finance skills development and make room in their schedule for other professional development. Just as important: You need to help them find time to focus on development.

One way to make it easier for core staff to find time for professional development is to hire contract professionals. These workers can complement your full-time team by providing skills, knowledge and support when and for as long as they are needed. Many of these professionals can work remotely, too. Engaging contract talent helps your workers stay on top of their current responsibilities while also freeing them to build the skills and knowledge they need to succeed at your firm in the future.

The initial time and effort to implement the professional development ideas listed above can help increase the overall knowledge and abilities of your entire staff, making this investment a win-win for your employees and your business.